A Den of Antiquity Mystery
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Estate Of Mind
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I've been in sorrow's kitchen and licked out every pot. But I haven't suffered half as much as Mama, to hear her tell it. So out of guilt I went along with her to the Episcopal Church of Our Savior in Rock Hill, South Carolina. I go to church regularly, mind you, but this was to the annual white elephant sale and potluck supper, and it was a Wednesday night.
"Junk," I whispered. "It's just junk."
"Shh, Abby. Someone will hear you."
"So what, Mama? Feel this sweater. It's 100 percent acrylic. You could grate carrots with it."
"It's a very pretty pink."
"Speaking of pink, can you believe this pink flamingo night light?"
"Lower your voice, dear. You Know Who donated that."
"You Know Who?"
I glanced around the parish hall, looking for a dowdy little woman with a hat and an obviously empty handbag. There were no hats to be seen.
"I don't think she can hear all the way from England." "Priscilla Hunt is not in England, dear. She's right over there."
"Oh, that queen."
Priscilla Hunt is the uncrowned queen of Rock Hill. At least in her eyes. Not only is she the wealthiest woman in town, but she descends from one of the city's earliest settlers. Frankly, I have always been baffled by the amount of power Priscilla is able to wield, especially considering the fact that nobody likes her. She was standing alone, as usual, glaring at her archrival, Hortense Simms.
Hortense doesn't have a lineage worthy of a horse thief, but she is the Episcopal Church of Our Savior's resident celebrity and the second wealthiest woman in the parish. She is also a confirmed spinster with a reputation for holding her nose so high, it's a wonder she doesn't require an oxygen mask. Confidentially, Hortense doesn't deserve to be famous just because she published a book on antique undergarments, even if the ones she wrote about were worn by famous people. Of Corsets and Crowns never would have made the New York Times best seller list if Oprah hadn't mentioned it in passing. A woman who describes underwear for a living has no cause to put on airs, if you ask me.
"I wouldn't be surprised if the high and mighty Hortense chipped in with these cracked wooden salad bowls."
"I gave those," Mama said.
"Mama, you didn't!"
"I asked you if you wanted them, remember?"
I shook my head.
"Well, I did. Last Thanksgiving. And you said, ,no.' So don't blame me if somebody else snaps them up for a song. Abby, I would have let you have them for fifty cents apiece."
"I don't want the salad bowls." I waved my arms at the clutter spread across eight folding tables that flanked the room. "Marna, we're Episcopalians. Can't we do better than this?"
"What did you donate, dear? This auction is to benefit the youth group, you know. They're badly in need of a new van."
I hung my head in shame. As the owner of the Den of Antiquity, one of the Charlotte area's finest stores, I had plenty to donate to a church fund raiser.
Mama gasped and clutched her single strand of pearls. "You didn't donate anything, did you?"
"I was going to, Mama, but I've been busy. it sort of slipped my mind."
"Bet that new boyfriend of yours hasn't slipped your mind, has he?"
I must have looked guilty.
"I knew it. Well, Abigail Louise Timberlake, I'm ashamed of you."
"Oh, Mama, you just don't like him because he's short."
"You said it, dear, not me."
"But, Mama, he's three inches taller than I!"
"You're four foot nine, dear. And besides, we don't know who his people are."
"Mama, you've met them, for crying out loud. You had lunch at his aunt's down in Georgetown.
Mama sniffed. "Appearances can be deceiving dear. You aren't really serious about this man, are you ?" Mama has her heart set on my marrying Greg Washburn, a handsome Charlotte police investigator. Greg is tall by anyone's standards, and drop dead gorgeous. Buster, on the other hand, has a face only a mama can love his mama, not mine and is a coroner. But Buster is someone I can count on, while Greg is as faithful as a buck rabbit just like my exhusband. I had a trump card that I knew would sway Mama over to Buster's side, but I wasn't ready to play it.
"Maybe we should head over to the food tables," I said, by way of diversion. "Father Foss is about to say grace "
"All right, dear, but I'm not letting you off the hook for a prayer. We'll talk later. Can you make it for supper Saturday night? Or do you and that little man have plans?"
"Saturday will be fine," I said and, grabbing her arm, steered her toward the food tables.
We barely made it in time. As soon as the word "Amen" passed the good father's lips, the crowd reen
acted the Oklahoma land rush. Not that I can blame them. Episcopalians rank among the world's finest cooks, after all. Potluck at the Church of Our Savior can be a treat.
But I was feeling a little off my feed that night. Lunch, earlier that day at Bubba's China Gourmet up in Charlotte, was more than just a memory. Bubba's moo goo gai grits and Beijing barbecue were still in my stomach, which in turn felt like it was somewhere down around my knees. But just to be sociable I put a watercress sandwich on my plate. Normally one would not find finger food at an evening potluck, but I blessed the kind soul who had provided it.
"Shhh, Mama, the bidding's started."
"Do I hear a dollar fifty for these salad bowls?" Father Foss was saying.
"Two dollars," Mama said.
"Mama, you can't bid on your own donation!"
Father Foss glanced our way. "Do I hear twofifty?"
"Two fifty!" I called. What the heck. Dmitri, my cat, could use a chow bowl.
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